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October 11, 2015 / Erik Ritland

The Latest from Erik Ritland

Erik Ritland is a writer and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. Founder of Rambling On, he has written hundreds of articles and hosted almost a hundred podcasts. He directs all of the content on Rambling On, created and maintains the website, and is social media content director. He is also copy editor and writer for Music in Minnesota. Support Erik’s music on his music site or BandCamp, reach him via email, or find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Hello all,

This is an intimate message from the Ritland Rambler himself, one Erik Ritland.

I’ve been writing blogs under some semblance of the Rambling On name since 2012. It started with a weekly run of several articles (in a newspaper type format) in January and February 2012. I quickly ran out of funding to keep it going, and after a second attempt in the summer I had to reconsider my direction.

Throughout 2013 I wrote a few blogs under the Music, Sports, and Sunday Ramble names. Finally in April 2014 I launched the latest version of Rambling On, a regular blog and podcast, that I’ve been running ever since.

After several seasons and incarnations, Rambling On is currently a Minnesota Sports page. Mostly, we just do Twitter. Check out the website and history.

I’ve archived my best articles from my early writing period and you can find them below.

Erik Ritland Archive Sites

Music Ramble
Longer articles about music of all kinds. Archived from 2012-2014.

Sports Ramble
Local and national sports coverage. Mainly baseball and football related but some commentary on hockey and basketball as well. Archived from 2012-2014.

Ritland Ramble
Erik’s former culture blog. Society, politics, current events, and more. Archived from 2012-2014.

Sunday Ramble
Religious commentary. Archived from 2012-2013.

Daily Ramble
Daily blogs covering sports, music, culture, and more from January 2014.

The Weekly Ritland
Short-lived site that linked to each article I had posted for that week. Archived September 2012.

Football Ramble
Commentary on the first few weeks of the 2012 football season. Another project that ran out of funding. Archived fall 2012.

Erik Ritland is a writer and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. Founder of Rambling On, he has written hundreds of articles and hosted almost a hundred podcasts. He directs all of the content on Rambling On, created and maintains the website, and is social media content director. He is also copy editor and writer for Music in Minnesota. Support Erik’s music on his music site or BandCamp, reach him via email, or find him on Facebook and Twitter.

October 9, 2014 / Erik Ritland

Cassette Tape Magic

by Erik Ritland

Rambling On is a seriously fun blog and podcast covering sports, music, culture, and more. Check us out on Twitter, Facebook, or at our website.

Originally published in January 2014 as part of Rambling On’s Daily Ramble series.

*                                                                   *                                                                  *

There’s a kind of rush that I can’t explain
Tearing off the cellophane
Reading off the card, cueing up side A
Starting up the car and hitting play
– Johnathan Rundman


I have sentimental attachment to cassette tapes. Along with thrift store LPs they were the only format I could afford to buy music on growing up, due in equal part to not having a lot of expendable income and CDs being stupidly expensive.

I always dreamed of making a cassette tape. When my friend Nate Houge sold me his TASCAM cassette recorder I went crazy. I began writing and recording songs for the first time in my life. I was about 15 and obsessed with David Bowie and Uriah Heep. I wrote really bad socially conscious folk songs, meandering love songs, and bad punk rip-offs.

When I was in high school I got as far as making artwork for a tape of my recordings called Lower than Lo-Fi, Cheaper than Cheap. The only problem was that I had no way to transfer my music from my four track onto other tapes. I think I still have the artwork for it somewhere. Song titles included “Society’s Song,” “Giving In,” and the title track. Many of them I re-recorded for the first demo that I made (once again with Nate Houge).

Evidently 2013 saw a resurgence in cassettes. Honestly, I have no idea why. LPs sound better, MP3s are easier to manage, and CDs are, well, nearly as useless only they have better sound.

In an article for Rolling Stone cassette obsessive Rob Sheffield makes a good case in favor of cassettes, though:

Why are cassettes back? It’s easy. They’re cheap and they make noise. They’re quick. They’re intimate. They have personality, not just another digital file. And they sound great, if you like the ambient hum of cassette sound. (I do.)..Tapes are the ultimate DIY format – bands can crank out their homemade goodies fast, design a groovy cover, stack them on the merch table for $5 a pop. It’s a way to indulge weird experiments or the drummer’s side project.

I can get behind this sort of romanticism. A lot of my favorite ideas are side projects that never came to fruition. If I could spend all my time making music I’d come out with a bunch of cassettes. I’d write songs forever and work with all my friends on a ton of different stuff. The romance of a person, or band, creating songs and releasing them will never lose its mystery.

Speaking of mystery, Shefflied continues:

They also have a bit of old-school mystery. You can’t just click on a cassette and get the back story. You have to let the tape roll in real time, asking yourself questions like “Where did this come from?” or “How long does this stupid thing go on?” or “Why the hell did anyone spend an hour of their life making this?” You have to forget what you know and surrender to what you hear. It’s a format that rewards the curious of ear and stout of heart.

I often bemoan that in our fast food, digital world people don’t take the time to immerse themselves in music anymore. Albums (not vinyl, but a collection of songs) are dying as a format. That you can’t skip over a song you don’t like right away forces you to listen to it and maybe find something you didn’t expect. Instead of “surrendering to what you hear” each song surrenders to the whim of the individual listening to it.

I had no idea that anybody made cassettes anymore. I’m certainly on board, though. After all, who doesn’t like a little tape hiss?

Erik Ritland is a writer and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. His blog and podcast Rambling On features commentary on music, sports, culture, and more. He is also a contributor for Minnesota culture blog Curious North. Support Erik’s music via his Patreon account, reach him via email, or find him on Facebook and Twitter.

October 8, 2014 / Erik Ritland

Legend: Reflections on Pete Seeger

by Erik Ritland

Rambling On is a seriously fun blog and podcast covering sports, music, culture, and more. Check us out on Twitter, Facebook, or at our website.

When Pete Seeger died in January 2014 Rambling On published a series of tributes to him. They are combined into one piece below.

A True American Hero
I love my country very dearly, and I greatly resent the implication that some of the places that I have sung, and some of the people that I have known, and some of my opinions, whether they are religious or philosophical, make me less of an American.
– Pete Seeger

Legendary singer, songwriter, banjo player, music scholar, song collector, and all-around good guy Pete Seeger died Monday. Coincidentally all day I was reading the early chapters of Sean Wilentz’s wonderful book Bob Dylan in America which mentions Seeger a lot. I was thinking all day about how great it is that Seeger, one of the last living links to Woody Guthrie, was still around. I found out about his death from a post by one of the Band’s only living members, keyboard guru Garth Hudson, who is also mentioned in Bob Dylan in America.

How well Seeger presented himself, and how strongly he stood by and defended his beliefs, was admirable regardless of whether or not you agree with his sometimes radical leftism. During the McCarthy blacklist he repeatedly stood by his First Amendment right to believe whatever he wanted, even though it cost him his livelihood. He lost his popular TV show Hootenanny! and couldn’t get work at any musical venues that paid any money. He was forced to play for small paychecks at college campuses to survive.

Seeger was a quiet, well-stated man. If you watch any interviews with him you wonder how he was ever considered a threat. He expressed his views, sure, but he wasn’t an anarchist that wanted to overthrow the government or anything. He was simply a perceptive man who, like a true patriot, tried to influence the country he loved in what he thought was the best way. Anybody who finds freedom important, and respects people who are strong in their beliefs at any cost, have no choice but to see Seeger for what he is: a true American hero.

Love Each Other
I have sung for Americans of every political persuasion, and I am proud that I never refuse to sing to an audience, no matter what religion or color of their skin or situation in life.
– Pete Seeger

Honestly, I’ve never had an unequivocal love of Pete Seeger. He does represent, to some degree, the sort of one-dimensional political singer that the folk scene desired Dylan to never grow out of. Even on his last album of new material, Pete Seeger at 89, he preached about endangered whales and zero waste resolutions.

But that’s only part of his story.

Seeger sang and collected a diverse selection of American folk music: slow, minor key murder ballads, negro spirituals, funny and upbeat story songs, instrumentals of all sorts on many different instruments, blues, country, and so much more. Though he never strayed from folk music his repertoire had an endlessly entertaining amount of variety.

The contemporary left can learn from Seeger’s willingness to reach out to people regardless of their political, religious, or philosophical beliefs and affiliations. In addition to the inspiring quote above Seeger also said “It’s a very important thing to learn to talk to people you disagree with.” Being open to the ideas of others, and reaching out to them, is infinitely more useful than surrounding yourself only with people you agree with and shutting yourself off to the other side.

That Seeger was willing to reach out to those he disagreed with was one of his greatest attributes. Even though his left-leaning views were sometimes radical hehad a patient, charitable attitude towards those who disagreed with him. His example will always be inspiring.

The Long-Awaited Reunion of the Almanac Singers
Any fool can make something complicated. It takes a genius to make it simple.
– Woody Guthrie

Pete Seeger was a great man. To say anything less is a lie.

It’s particularly sad that he’s gone because he was one of the last living links to the legacy of Woody Guthrie, the most highly revered songwriter of the ‘30s and ‘40s. Seeger and Guthrie, together with an impressive group of friends that included Leadbelly, Cisco Houston, Sonny Terry, and so many others, created the most enduring American music of all-time. Although firmly left-leaning in their political views their music is so broad, creative, funny, and just plain cool that it appeals to those on all sides.

Woody Guthrie, of course, was one of Bob Dylan’s biggest influences. In the early ‘60s he traveled to New York solely to visit an ailing but still living Guthrie, which he eventually did. Seeger, for his part, became one of Dylan’s biggest mentors and earliest supporters.

Guthrie was a more talented writer but Seeger was more serious and knowledgeable. Guthrie was more himself, was more creative, was less linear. Seeger was more rigid and less flexible, but this was only because he knew clearly and exactly what he believed and why.

Dylan loved them so much, and was so influenced by them, because their music speaks across boundaries. It speaks deeply to human experience. You don’t find this sort of depth and uniqueness anymore, and that is why it’s such a tragedy that Seeger is gone. The world will miss such a strong, independent thinker.

Visions of Pete Seeger
At some point, Pete Seeger decided he’d be a walking, singing reminder of all of America’s history. He’d be a living archive of America’s music and conscience, a testament of the power of song and culture.
– Bruce Springsteen

To end my appreciation of Pete Seeger I highlight some songs, videos, and websites that illuminate his life. I also include some loving tributes.

Pete Seeger on Appleseed
Seeger spent his twilight years on Appleseed records. On this lovely site learn about his work with them, get information about the movie about him, and check out other cool links.

Pete Seeger: The Power of a Song
Speaking of the Seeger movie, here you can watch it in its entirety. It follows Seeger through his life and highlights how powerful music was in his life.

“We Shall Overcome” – Bruce Springsteen live, 1/28/14
In 2006 Bruce Springsteen released one of his best albums, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, which was all covers of songs Seeger popularized. Hear him play his friend’s most popular song in tribute the night after he died.

The Pete Seeger Appreciation Page Jim Capaldi, drummer for Traffic among others, started this Seeger tribute page years ago and it’s still the best on the web. Includes a bio, discography, songs, articles, reviews, and so much more.

“Playboys and Playgirls” – Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan
Although Dylan’s “going electric” caused a rupture in their friendship Seeger was one of his biggest inspirations. Here’s a track featuring them together from the 1963 Newport Folk Festival.

The Last Word
“Forever Young” – Pete Seeger
Everybody is going crazy about this video for good reason. Elder statesman Seeger sings Dylan’s “Forever Young” and the results are lovely. A great tribute to a great man.

The legacy of Pete Seeger will undoubtedly live on forever in American folk lore. That isn’t a highfaluting  statement; it’s a simple truth. The work he put in to collecting and spreading the word about America’s folk music is unmatched, his willingness to defend himself even during unfair circumstances, and the songs he wrote and sang will live on forever. He is truly an American hero.

Erik Ritland is a writer and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. His blog and podcast Rambling On features commentary on music, sports, culture, and more. He is also a contributor for Minnesota culture blog Curious North. Support Erik’s music via his Patreon account, reach him via emailor find him on Facebook and Twitter.

January 10, 2014 / Erik Ritland

Appreciations of Howlin’ Wolf, Jim Croce, and Ronnie Hawkins

A musical history lesson for January 10, 2014

Where the soul of man never dies
38 years ago today the world lost bluesman Howlin’ Wolf. Wolf is one of the foundational legends of music, one of the most unique and influential voices in rock music. His 6 foot, 6 inch, 300 pound stature matched his large, booming voice. Sam Phillips of Sun Records, who discovered Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, and others, called Wolf his greatest discovery. “This is it,” he said of his finding Wolf. “This is where the soul of man never dies.”

That’s about the best way to describe the Wolf’s voice – and his music. Seminal Wolf songs you should check out include “Evil,” “Spoonful,” “Back Door Man,” “Killing Floor,” and “Smokestack Lightening.” The feel of the songs – and that voice – combine to make transcendent music that will give you the chills.

I suggest, however, not listening to Wolf’s stuff on computer speakers, probably in the middle of the day, while surfing the web like you may be doing. It’s best to listen to at night. And you have to give it your undivided attention. If you do you’ll understand why there’s nothing like it.

To read more about Wolf check out this entertaining multimedia biography.

The underrated Jim Croce
Believe it or not soft rock songwriter Jim Croce would have turned 71 today had he not died in a plane crash in the ‘70s. It’s a shame that he doesn’t get a lot of airplay and recognition beyond his one novelty hit “Bad Bad LeRoy Brown” as many of his songs – “Operator,” “Time in a Bottle,” “I Got A Name,” (my personal favorite) and “I’ll Have to Say I Love You in a Song” are very high quality, and his other novelty hits “Rapid Roy the Stock Car Boy,” “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim,” and “Working at the Car Wash Blues” are all better, and funnier, than “LeRoy Brown” (although “Jim” is literally the same story).

The Hawk, Ronnie Hawkins
On the opposite end of the spectrum is unheralded rockabilly legend Ronnie Hawkins. Best known for
fronting the Band before they were the Band, Hawkins was the last rockabilly refugee. His energy, on-stage antics, and twisted sense of humor are legendary. His appearance at the Band’s Last Waltz is only an inclination of what he could do in his prime.

Today Ronnie turns 79. Long live the Hawk!

Erik Ritland is a journalist and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. He writes frequent Daily Rambles and Ramblin’ On catalogs his writings on culture, music (including his own projects), sports, religion, and many other topics. You can reach him via email here.

January 10, 2014 / Erik Ritland

Lost Classics: Elvis and Bowie

Yesterday was the birthday of both Elvis Presley and David Bowie. To celebrate here are three of their lesser-known songs that are worth hearing.

David Bowie

Karma Man (outtake from 1969, first appeared on 1970 LP The World of David Bowie)
If I compiled a list of my favorite Bowie songs, and I’m sure I will someday, this would probably be in the top five. It has a great chord progression, an engaging melody (especially in the chorus), and a string-heavy, dreamy arrangement that fits Bowie’s esoteric, Buddhist-tinged lyrics. Simply, it’s one of the catchiest pop singles of the ’60s. That it was never released as a single is baffling.

Candidate (Demo) (outtake from 1974 LP Diamond Dogs)
Bowie meandered a bit after breaking up his classic early ’70s band, the Spiders from Mars, in July 1973. After the glam rock of 1973’s all covers album PinUps he gradually moved towards the darker apocalyptic rock of Diamond Dogs. During this time he recorded “Candidate (Demo)” and it sounds exactly like a bridge between Ziggy Stardust and Diamond Dogs: spacey, dark ’70s rock with gloomy, twisted lyrics.  Worth a listen simply for Mike Garson’s piano playing and the atmospheric electric guitar textures.

Wild is the Wind (from the 1976 LP Station to Station)
Supposedly David Bowie offered his eventual hit “Golden Years” to Elvis. It does sound like something he would record, and it’s certainly better than a lot of stuff he was recording at the time, yet Presley declined. Although solid it is probably one of the lesser tracks on Bowie’s seminal Station to Station. His take on Johnny Mathis’ gorgeous “Wild is the Wind” is tender and features one of  Bowie’s most emotive vocal performances.

Elvis Presley
Baby, Let’s Play  House (Sun Records single, 1955)
That Elvis Presley created rock n’ roll at Sun Records in the mid-’50s might not be an understatement. His mix of hard blues, country western, and pop was something completely new. The variety of Elvis’ Sun material, not surprisingly, is as vast as his influences. There isn’t one song from this period that isn’t a classic, but the reckless rock of “Baby, Let’s Play House” often gets overlooked.

Gentle on my Mind (from the 1969 LP From Elvis in Memphis)Like his Sun Sessions
Elvis’ late ’60s output, largely recorded at Stax studio in Memphis, is diverse. It encompasses soul, r n’ b, pop, rock, blues, country, and more. The decidedly ’60s keyboards, choirs, and arrangements have dated it a bit but the material is high-quality and the performances find Elvis and his band at their best. All this comes together on Glen Campbell’s “Gentle on My Mind.” The band is tight, horns and keyboards give it a nice feel, and Elvis’ vocal is powerful in its subtlety.

Polk Salad Annie (from the live TV special That’s the Way it is)
In a lot of ways Elvis’ power was only fully evident in his live performances. His energy can’t really be contained on records, as he shows on this cover of Tony Joe White’s swamp classic “Polk Salad Annie.” The band is absolutely on, tight and reckless, especially in the dynamics toward the middle and end of the song.

Erik Ritland is a journalist and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. He writes frequent Daily Rambles and Ramblin’ On catalogs his writings on culture, music (including his own projects), sports, religion, and many other topics. You can reach him via email here.

January 7, 2014 / Erik Ritland

Remembering Syd Barrett

Syd Barrett, the founder and original leader of Pink Floyd, is one of my songwriting heroes. He was the main force behind Floyd’s seminal debut album Piper at the Gates of Dawn and, despite limited involvement, had some of his most memorable guitar playing and his best song, “Jugband blues,” on their second album A Saucerful of Secrets. His two dreamy folk solo albums, The Madcap Laughs and Barrett, further proved his genius and solidified his reputation.

How highly regarded he is despite his relatively small output speaks to how creative, and game-changing, his songs are. An art school dropout like many other of the best English songwriters of the period (John Lennon, Roger Waters, Pete Townshend), the fairy tales he read as a child and literature he read as he grew up imbued his beautiful, playful, dreamy lyrics.

Especially Piper at the Gates of Dawn, but also Saucerful of Secrets, are as good as psychedelic rock ever got. Barrett’s lyrics and soulful, erratic guitar playing, the instrumentation of Roger Waters, Nick Mason, and especially keyboardist Richard Wright, layers of well-placed, mind-expanding sounds, and their ability to experiment with song structures gave their music a vision that no other psychedelic rock band equaled. Highlights include hypnotic “Chapter 24” and “Pow R. Toc H.”; the whimsical “Bike,” “The Scarecrow,” and “The Gnome”; the catchy rock of “Arnold Layne,” “See Emily Play,” “Lucifer Sam,” and “Matilda Mother”; and the expansive, mind-blowing “Interstellar Overdrive” and “Astronomy Domine.”

His best Floyd song, though, is the last track on Saucerful of Secrets, “Jugband Blues.” Barrett’s mental descent, brought on by his own history of illness but exacerbated by heavy drug use, is well-documented. He could barely keep himself together by the time he retired after the release of his second solo album. His mental state is set to music and poetry in “Jugband Blues”:

It’s awfully considerate of you to think of me here
And I’m most obliged to you for m-making it clear that I’m not here
And I never knew the room could be so big
And I never knew the room could be so blue
And I’m grateful that you threw away my old shoes
And brought me here instead dressed in red
And I’m wondering who could be writing this song…

A simple folk song at its core, the ominous Salvation Army band horns and wild experimental noises take it to another level completely. The lyrics are a scary, powerful intimation of Barrett’s mental state, especially its concluding lines:

The sea isn’t green
And I love the queen
And what exactly is a dream
And what exactly is a joke?

Barrett would go on to record two solo albums,
The Madcap Laughs and Barrett. The lyrics are similar to what he wrote later on in Floyd, strange, erratic, stream-of-consciousness poetry. Musically, though, it’s much more folk oriented. The acid rock noises and guitars of Floyd are replaced with Barrett’s plaintive acoustic strumming and a small, simple backing band. Like “Jugband Blues” his best solo song “Dark Globe” is telling of his mental state:

Oh, where are you now?
Pussy willow that smiled on this leaf
When I was alone you promised a stone from your heart
My head kissed the ground
I was half the way down
Treading the sand
Please, please lift a hand
I’m only a person
Whose armbands beat on his hands hang tall

Won’t you miss me?
Wouldn’t you miss me at all?

The poppy bird’s way
Swing twigs coffee brands around
Brandish her wand with a feathery tongue
My head kissed the ground
I was half the way down treading the sand
Please, please, please lift a hand
I’m only a person with Eskimo chain
I tattooed my brain all the way

Won’t you miss me?
Wouldn’t you miss me at all?

We do miss you, Syd. On this, what would have been his 68th birthday, we remember his invaluable addition to music.

Erik Ritland is a journalist and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. He writes frequent Daily Rambles and Ramblin’ On catalogs his writings on culture, music (including his own projects), sports, religion, and many other topics. You can reach him via email here.

September 28, 2012 / Erik Ritland

Neil Young, Americana

Grade: B+

I was originally going to give this album an A or A+ as I am completely in love with it and can find nothing I dislike about it. But then what would I give the Beatles’ The White Album, Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, or Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited? An A+++? I had to draw the line somewhere. Believe me though, if we’re talking albums that have come out since 1980, this gets an A.

On Americana Neil Young and Crazy Horse cover fairly well-known traditional folk songs (“Oh Susannah,” “This Land is Your Land,” and “Jesus’ Chariot (She’ll be Comin’ Round the Mountain)”) in their typical loose, electric guitar-heavy way. To prove that not even a concept he creates can tie him down, Young also covers England’s “God Save the Queen” and the ‘50s doo-wop classic “Get a Job,” which only loosely fit the concept. He sets limits to facilitate creativity and then breaks them when it fits his spirit.

The songs Young chose are classic for good reason. They’re a part of our soil, a part of our blood, a part of our soul as Americans. Those who aren’t acquainted with them are detached from their own history and are missing significant knowledge of what has made them who they are. A generation that doesn’t know where they’ve been will find it difficult to figure out where they are or where they are going. This album is the most important type of education.

The songs vary in sound and feel and are well-executed. The opening track, “Oh Susannah,” sets the tone of the album with its loose arrangement that always threatens to devolve into a train wreck but never does. This tension, found on most of the songs, gives the album a unique feel. Each performance comes from the band’s spirit. They are personal and real.

This attitude brings freshness and character. Hard-hitting drum riffs combined with Young’s classic, chunky distorted guitar tones are the foundation for “Clementine” and “Jesus’ Chariot.” The formers haunting, minor-key ambiance cuts to the soul of the song. Of the riff-led songs – “Tom Dula,” “High Flying Bird,” and “Travel On” – the first is the standout, even at a sprawling 8:13. Young’s vocal, the guitar work, and the shouting backing vocals have an energy that brings new life to the old folk song.

While many of the tracks – “Susannah,” “Clementine,” and “Dula” among them – have a dark, heavy, weighty edge to them, there are some brighter spots that even things out. “This Land is Your Land,” “Gallows Pole,” “Get a Job,” “Travel On,” and “God Save the Queen” are each loose and jaunty. The guitar recklessness that Crazy Horse is known for gives life to their traditional arrangement of “This Land.” The snarky original lyrics penned by Woody Guthrie that were left out of the original recording are a nice touch.

In these times, when so much of what makes music wonderful is dying, it is essential to continue to support real musicians like Young and real albums like Americana. Don’t just download it – buy it. Support real music from real musicians while you still can.

Erik Ritland is a journalist and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. His writings on culture, music (including his own projects), sports, religion, and many other topics are cataloged regularly at Ramblin’ On. You can reach him via email here.

September 20, 2012 / Erik Ritland

What Neil Young’s Americana Means to Me

I’m a huge Neil Young fan. He’s my favorite guitar player, one of my top 5 favorite songwriters, and top 3 favorite vocalists. More than that, though, I respect that he does whatever the fuck he wants regardless of what he’s told to do, what’s most beneficial for him, or what’s expected of him.

Despite my love of Young I still haven’t listened closely to his last few records. Chrome Dreams II holds a place in my heart, especially the wonderful, grandiose “Ordinary People,” and I listened to Living with War as a curiosity, but in general I’ve paid about as much attention to Young as I have any new records in the last, I don’t know, ten years.

I love the concept of Americana. Crazy Horse doing hard-hitting, electric guitar drenched versions of American folk songs, sometimes with a kids choir? The idea of it is pure Young: something creative, out of left-field. It is ideas like these that make me love and admire Neil Young as much as I do.

The soul, romance, and aesthetic of all things America that embody the Americana tradition – folk, blues, jazz, country, and rock n’ roll music, authors as diverse as James Fennimore Cooper, Walt Whitman, and William Faulkner, social and political icons beyond number, and the nameless mass of farmers, workers, and vagrants that paint the landscape – has become a significant part of me. More than history, more than where I’m from, this long tradition is soul, is life, is meaning. This album embodies all that in a way only Neil Young can do.

Read part II of this review here.

Erik Ritland is a journalist and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. His writings on culture, music (including his own projects), sports, religion, and many other topics are cataloged regularly at Ramblin’ On. You can reach him via email here.

February 10, 2012 / Erik Ritland

Heroes and Friends

Sometimes inspiration comes from the least likely of sources

from Volume 1, Issue 4 of Ramblin’ On

I discovered Randy Travis when he appeared on the Marty Stuart show. Stuart is the foremost ambassador of traditional country music today. His show, which appears on RFD-TV, is a must-see for anybody interested in what is best about America.

Growing up in the early ‘90s I had heard of Travis even though my parents were not fans of country music. You couldn’t get away from songs like, say, “Forever and Ever Amen.” When I began to like country as I grew up I still saw Travis as a boring 80s/90s country artist that it wouldn’t be worth listening to.

I’ve since dropped such pretense and come to enjoy many ‘80s and ‘90s country singers including Travis Tritt, early Alan Jackson, George Strait, and others (still not a huge Garth Brooks guy though). Top of the list for me is Travis, whose mellow, well-paced, lovingly arranged brand of country is endearing.

“Heroes and Friends” is one of the best country songs of the ‘80s (the video is also cool, click the link to check it out). It is a lilting piece of 80s country with a tight, traditional arrangement and touching, thoughtful lyrics.

Travis simply and effectively sets up the song in the first verse:

I ain’t lived forever but I’ve lived enough
I’ve learned to be gentle and I’ve learned to be rough
I’ve found only two things that last till the end
One is your heroes, the other’s your friends

There is a simple beauty to those lines. A song called “Heroes and Friends” could easily be preachy, simplistic, or overbearing. Travis avoids those pitfalls by relying on simple statements and truths.

“Heroes and Friends” is an ode to Roy Rogers, a cowboy icon of the 1950s and one of Travis’ childhood heroes. Travis more explicitly refers to him in the second verse, but in a subtle way:

I grew up with cowboys I watched on TV
My friends and I sometimes pretended to be
Years have gone by but now and again
My heart rides the range with my heroes and friends

Tribute songs often suffer from lyrics that are too up-front, personal, or obvious. Travis instead puts Rogers in the broader context of his childhood by reminiscing about when he used to watch, and look up to, cowboys on TV. Anybody who looked up to and imitated their heroes growing up can relate to this.

The chorus simply and directly brings the song together:

Your heroes will help you find good in yourself
Your friends won’t forsake you for somebody else
They’ll both stand beside you through thick and through thin
And that’s how it goes with heroes and friends

At its most basic level “Heroes and Friends” is a classic country song with a message that is simple and uplifting without being trite. But beyond that it is a subtle, emotive piece of songwriting that has stood the test of time.

Erik Ritland is a journalist and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. His writings on culture, music (including his own projects), sports, religion, and many other topics are cataloged regularly at Ramblin’ On. You can reach him via email here.

February 6, 2012 / Erik Ritland

The Eagles’ “Get Over It”

from Volume 1, Issue 1 of Ramblin’ On

Song Review

“Get Over It” by the Eagles
from the 1994 album Hell Freezes Over

The more I think about it, ‘ol Billy was right
Let’s kill all the lawyers, kill ‘em tonight
You don’t wanna work
You wanna live like a king
But this big, bad world don’t owe you a thing
Get over it

The Eagles resurfaced in 1994 with the EP/live album Hell Freezes Over, which is best known for the lame acoustic version of “Hotel California” that got a ton of radio play for some reason. Far better, though, is “Get Over It,” the bands first single in 14 years, and indeed one of their best.

The songs upbeat rock groove thankfully sounds more like early 70s Joe Walsh than 90s Don Henley.The socially conscious lyrics, sometimes a strong suit with Henley as on classics like “Dirty Laundry,” are really what make it better than most classic rock comeback songs from the 90s, much less Eagles songs. The top quote is a highlight (“ol’ Billy” is Shakespeare, by the way) that neatly provides a Readers Digest version of the theme – the contemporary disease of entitlement. “Get Over It” is a great message for the world today: “All your bitching, and moaning, and pitching a fit – get over it.”

In 1994 a solid, upbeat, punchy, classic sounding rock song was hard to come by. Grunge and alternative rock were king, pop music was sappy and awful, and hip-hop was in the middle of a golden age. Joe Walsh’s opening riff, in that context, crashes like a thunderbolt delivered from the ghost of Muddy Waters, his slide guitar a reminder that dinosaur rockers could still rock.

Sometimes at least.

Erik Ritland is a journalist and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. His writings on culture, music (including his own projects), sports, religion, and many other topics are cataloged regularly at Ramblin’ On. You can reach him via email here.